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Hack Week: PocketLawyer for the Win!



Pocket Lawyer - Is that a lawyer in your pocket or are you just happy to sue me?

During Avvo's quarterly "Hack Week", I pitched the idea to use text messaging as a way for consumers to ask lawyers questions. On Tuesday, I was able to build some excitement and recruited my partners in crime, Jake Sparling, Leslie Zavica, and Claire Schechter, who quickly saw the potential to build on on Avvo's already powerful forum for posting questions and receiving quality answers from lawyers with quick turn around time.


On Wednesday, we got together as a team and identified our initial minimal viable product, then defined a few next steps, etc. to create a mini roadmap. We started out with the idea that a consumer could use SMS to post a question to Avvo's Q&A Forum, with a confirmation link. From there, the next iteration would alert the consumer with lawyer responses, and then contact information of the lawyer in case the consumer wanted to learn more or reach out directly to the lawyer. We had a lot of ideas of what we could do after or instead, but we wanted to be laser focused due to timing and feasibility.

We had split off into different directions to tackle the problem. Luckily, Jake is an expert on how Twilio could help us achieve this opportunity, so I focused on what the SMS text tree would look like. In order to inform this effort I studied other examples of chatbots to leverage a better understanding. Resistbot is in the news right now, and was a huge inspiration. Others included Peach food delivery and King County Metro Transit.

During this time, I learned a lot about text messaging that made our hack idea even more compelling for us to work on. I also started putting together our final presentation, where I also created a mock landing page (as seen at the top of this post).

Some stats about text messaging...

  • Text messaging is the most used data service in the world (Nielsen)

  • 86% of people text regularly (2015)

  • Texts have a 99% open rate (SinglePoint)

  • Text is the most used form of communication for American adults under the age of 50. (Gallup)


So, while I worked on the presentation, landing page, and text messages, the rest of the team focused

on the tech solution. They created a simple Rails API that integrated with Twilio and our own API's. This required very minimal changes to our standard stack. We did not focus on edge cases or account management for the scope of this project.


I also made some additional mocks to demonstrate the additional value Avvo can gain by using text messaging as a channel for engagement, with examples of how we can send links of related content, or direct contacts to lawyers, all right there on their phone via text message.

The benefits provided by opening a new channel for users to interact with Avvo are substantial, especially since 60% of our traffic now on mobile. To meet users where they are, on their phone, always seems like a great idea. To know that we can help reduce friction of getting access to legal to help people make better informed decisions was very motivating. For the company, text messaging is pretty cheap, as SMS costs less than a cent per message, and provides valuable data to better understand what is beneficial.

This project was super fun us all to work on, it was energizing and allowed us to move fast on an idea and gel quickly as a group. When we presented our project on Friday, we were ready for the audience to text message their question in and experience our work themselves. It was a lot of fun to see the crowd enjoying this feature.

The work was recognized, and we were awarded with two wins, both Best Overall AND People's Choice! Not bad for my first time participating in a hackathon, especially as we were up against more than 10 other groups which included VR and gamifying the engineering process.


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